Konnor McClain’s passion for gymnastics started when she was a toddler and her potential manifested shortly after she took part in her first “Mommy and Me” class.
When she was only 18 months old, McClain picked up a pair of child-sized rings and showed them what she was capable of. After doing several baby pull-ups, it wasn’t long before McClain started practicing backflips on the balance beam.
Nearly a decade later, McClain is still at the forefront of gymnastics and training with hopes of making the 2024 Olympic team in the US. However, the 16-year-old could now have a shot at making it to the Tokyo Games instead.
Konnor McClain hopes to land a place on the US national gymnastics team this summer
Female gymnasts must be 16 years of age during the Olympic year to qualify for the Games. Born in 2005, McClain knew she would not be able to attend the Tokyo Games and so aligned her goals with Paris.
However, with the Tokyo Games being postponed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, McClain was given an unexpected opportunity to compete for a place on this year’s Olympic team.
McClain recalled the moment she found out she was eligible for the Tokyo Games – telling sports mail she was at home watching a movie with her older sister Olivia when her phone started to explode. The 16-year-old said people all over Twitter shared the decision about the 2005-born gymnast.
After receiving a message from what felt like thousands of people, McClain said, “It was so overwhelming and so crazy.
“I really didn’t expect them to change the rules and then everyone just bumped into me. It was literally everywhere and I just thought ‘wow, is this really happening?”
Labeled as ‘the next Simone Biles’, McClain has been touted for making it big for her unusual combination of light-hearted grace and sheer athleticism. As a result, many believe that Olympic qualification for the youngster will be a walk in the park.
However, it’s hard to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team at the best of times, let alone the fact that the International Gymnastics Federation has reduced the team size from five to four for Tokyo.
McClain insists she’s grateful for the trust the public has shown in her, but admits the extra scrutiny can be difficult to deal with.
When asked if she felt more pressure for the upcoming trials because she was considered one of the athletes to watch, McClain said, “Yeah, sure.
“I feel like it definitely took its toll on me a few months ago, but now I try not to think about it and try not to put that pressure on myself.
“I just take one day at a time so I don’t have to deal with the mental stress and pressure.”
McClain was too young to participate in Tokyo but is now eligible due to the postponement
As a result, she will now try to qualify for the upcoming Olympic trials
Regardless of the pressure she’s under, McClain says she feels prepared for the upcoming championships and Olympic trials, despite an unprecedented year of training.
She said: ‘It is definitely different this year, just with the training and just with the preparation for the Olympics and the Olympic trials.
“The stress level and the mental and physical state you have to be in for those matches is a lot. But I feel quite prepared for championships and then hopefully tasting.’
Despite getting the chance to get to the Olympics soon this summer, McClain said she and her coaches decided not to rush upgrades this year.
She explained how training for the national team has challenged her body over the years and she has only just learned to manage her training load.
She said, “I’ve definitely gotten used to it. The first week was… oh my god, so hard.
‘Now I’m getting better. Of course your body will always hurt, but you just have to take the time to recover.’
After we prioritize recovery, sports mail took the opportunity to ask McClain what she does in her spare time to give up gymnastics.
The 16-year-old said, “I always go to church with my grandfather and I usually hang out with my family or friends.”
However, she admitted that balancing life as a normal 16-year-old girl and life as an Olympic hopeful has become more challenging over the years.
McClain said: ‘This year has definitely been more difficult. I actually only took it one day at a time.
“You have to find your free time to hang out with your friends, just to take your mind off the gymnastics every now and then, and then you have to go to the gym and focus on gymnastics.
“And then of course my family, they’re always there, so it’s easy to get along with them.”
Despite having to juggle various aspects of her life, McClain says it would be worth making it to an Olympics.
When asked what she would like to achieve at the Games if she was selected, McClain gave a heartwarming answer.
She said, ‘Just going is really great. I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about that.
The 16-year-old says she feels prepared for the trials starting this month
However, she admitted to feeling a lot of pressure after being named an athlete to watch
“I was eight when I started the development camps, so that’s when I first dreamed of playing in the national team. So to be honest it would be insane.’
She did admit, however, that she would be a little disappointed that her number 1 fan (her mother) would not attend the Games if she qualified.
“I’d say my mom has gone to every game I’ve ever competed in, so it would be so weird not to have her there and not have a huge crowd watching in the stands.”